Dead Butterfly

By Ellen Bass Ellen Bass
For months my daughter carried   
a dead monarch in a quart mason jar.   
To and from school in her backpack,   
to her only friend’s house.   At the dinner table   
it sat like a guest alongside the pot roast.   
She took it to bed, propped by her pillow.   

Was it the year her brother was born?   
Was this her own too-fragile baby   
that had lived—so briefly—in its glassed world?   
Or the year she refused to go to her father’s house?   
Was this the holding-her-breath girl she became there?   

This plump child in her rolled-down socks   
I sometimes wanted to haul back inside me   
and carry safe again.   What was her fierce   
commitment?   I never understood.   
We just lived with the dead winged thing   
as part of her, as part of us,   
weightless in its heavy jar.

Poem copyright © 2007 by Ellen Bass and reprinted from “The Human Line,” 2007, by permission of Copper Canyon Press,

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Poet Ellen Bass


Subjects Living, Parenthood, Relationships, Pets

Poetic Terms Free Verse


Poet and teacher Ellen Bass grew up in New Jersey. She earned an MA in creative writing from Boston University, where she studied with Anne Sexton. Bass’s style is direct; she has noted, “I work to speak in a voice that is meaningful communication. Poetry is the most intimate of all writing. I want to speak from me to myself and then from me to you.” Bass’s collections of poetry include Mules of Love (2002), which won the Lambda . . .

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SUBJECT Living, Parenthood, Relationships, Pets


Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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